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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Thinking outside the plot: monitoring forest biodiversity for social-ecological research

Salk, Carl F.; Chazdon, Robin; Waiswa, Daniel


Protecting biodiversity, either for its own sake or for its value to humanity, is a principal goal of conservation efforts worldwide. For this reason, many studies on the social science of resource management and governance seek to quantify biodiversity outcomes. Here, we focus on the International Forestry Resources and Institutions program to demonstrate some of the challenges of quantitative biodiversity assessment and suggest ways to overcome them. One of this program's research goals is to understand the causes of biodiversity loss, which is explicitly assessed using plot-based forest sampling. Plot-based methods to capture biodiversity changes require huge amounts of data. Even if sampling is sufficient, existing protocols can only capture changes in the types of species actually sampled, typically trees. Other elements of biodiversity are not censused, including animals, herbs, shrubs, fungi, and epiphytes that may provide medicine, food, wildlife habitat, trade items, or cultural goods. Using case studies of two sites in Uganda, we demonstrate that more spatially extensive surveys targeting multiple types of data can give a broader picture of forest status and changes than can plot-based sampling alone; many relevant variables can be observed while traveling among plot points with little additional effort. Reviewing the ecological literature, we identify correlates of forest status that can supplement plot-based sampling. These include large trees, epiphyte-laden trees, culturally or commercially valuable species, large stumps, and evidence of hunting and trapping. Further, data elicited from local resource users can play an important role in biodiversity monitoring. These findings suggest that effective biodiversity monitoring may be within easier reach than previously thought, although robust comparisons among sites remains a challenge, especially when climate, soils, or site history differ greatly.


biodiversity monitoring; community-based monitoring; conservation; participatory monitoring; socio-ecological studies

Published in

Ecology and Society
2020, volume: 25, number: 1, article number: 7

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Southern Swedish Forest Research Centre
Chazdon, Robin
Univ Sunshine Coast
Waiswa, Daniel
Makerere Univ

UKÄ Subject classification

Forest Science

Publication Identifiers


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